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Running With Your Dog

posted Mar 27, 2010, 4:40 PM by Andrew Nelson   [ updated Mar 27, 2010, 6:33 PM ]

A good run together is a great way for you and your dog to enjoy each other.  It’s great exercise and encourages teamwork.  Since the age of 14, I’ve jogged with my dogs (first Thunder and now Tootsie and Reece).  I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned about this activity over the years.

Before the Run

The Dog Start with a healthy, physically mature dog at a proper weight.  I personally feel that running should not be used as a means of taking weight off of an obese dog; proper diet adjustments and other forms of less intensive exercise are usually better for this.  You may also want to have your dog’s hips and elbows checked before you start running if she is of a breed (or breeds) that is prone to dysplasia.  This is not to say that dysplastic dogs can’t run, but you may have to adjust your running program according to the severity of the hip or elbow dysplasia.  Your pet health care professional can help you with making these decisions.  Some dogs have certain morphologies that make it difficult for them to run distances.  For instance, breeds that are extremely brachycephalic (short snouted) like Pugs, Pekingese, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels can find it extremely difficult to breath efficiently when engaging in sustained aerobic activity.  I would not run with dogs like this.  Smaller dogs, such as Toy Poodles and Miniature Schnauzers, can make good running partners, but remember a mile is a lot longer for them than it is for larger dogs.  The dog’s coat is another thing to take into consideration.  Length isn’t necessarily as important as thickness and color of the coat is.  A tri-colored (mostly black) Rough Collie in full coat will probably get hotter much faster than a sable colored Rough Collie that has shed all of her undercoat.

Equipment | I prefer a six-foot leather or cotton leash.  These leashes are easy on the hands and are of good length.  I find that a shorter leash doesn’t allow enough flexibility in length and a longer flexi style leash is too much flexibility.  The collar should fit the dog properly and be comfortable.  With my own dogs, I prefer to use the nylon martingale collars.  I don’t like to use “choke chains”, and I don't recommend them.

Training | Before running, your dog should have basic leash manners and obedience, as well as self-control.  It is very difficult and dangerous (to you, your dog, and others) to run with a dog that lunges after every bird, rabbit, cat, dog, bicycler, etc.  I also like to teach my dogs "left", "right", to slow down, and to speed up.  Establishing this sort of communication with your dog will make runs more enjoyable and less stressful for both of you.

Food and Water | Avoid feeding your dog within three hours before you run.  Running your dog on a full stomach could cause her to vomit, or, even worse, to bloat.  (This three hour rule can and will vary depending on the type of food you feed and how quickly the dog digests the food, but, just to be safe, I wouldn't make it any less than three hours.)  You want to make sure your dog is well hydrated before you run, but I wouldn't run a dog that has just gulped a large amount of water.  You can still have stomach issues.  My own dogs drink small amounts throughout the day.  Therefore, I really don't decide when we start our runs according to when they last had a drink.

Feet | Inspect your dog’s toes and pads before running.  If there is any visible injury or if the dog shows signs of discomfort while being handled do not run, but do contact your vet.  The toenails should be trimmed.  Toenails that are too long can be a source of pain when they strike the ground.  Toenails can also be too short--I learned this the hard way--especially if you are running on an abrasive surface like asphalt or concrete.  I do not run with my dogs if they have had their nails freshly dremeled.  Going for a run on an abrasive surface can wear down the dog's nails even more, possibly to the quick.  I had this problem with Reece a while ago.  I had dremeled her nails earlier in the day, and, because she had black nails, I had no way of really telling how close I was to the quick.  When we got back from our run, I noticed one of her nails was bleeding from the tip.     

Stretching | Stretching your dog before a run is probably a good idea.  Before you do this, research how to properly stretch your dog, as improper stretching can cause injury.

During the Run

Surfaces | Natural surfaces, such as the floor of level hiking trails, are ideal.  They stay relatively cool and are easier on your dogs pads and joints.  Concrete, asphalt, and other abrasive surfaces can cause extensive wear to the pads, be hard on your dogs joints, and can be very hot at times.  I do a lot of running with the dogs on abrasive surfaces; it's just what's nearest to us.  I do not run on these types of surfaces with them for more than 15 minutes and more than two or three times a week.  Our longer runs (45 minutes to an hour) usually happen on weekends at the local parks.

The Season and Time of Day | Running in the winter with your dog can be a lot of fun, but pay particular attention to your dog's paws.  Ice and snow can ball up between the toes and road salt can really damage the pads.  You can choose to use booties, but don't leave them on the dog's paws too long.  Your dog dissipates heat through her pads.  Keeping booties on too long can throw off your dog's thermal regulation.  The cold winter temperatures can also be an issue for dogs without much coat.  With my dogs, pretty much anytime of day in the winter is fine for us.  During the summer, it is usually best to run in the mornings when it is still cool.  The evenings can also be okay if you aren't running on concrete or asphalt.  Even though the temperature has dropped in the evening, concrete or asphalt may still be holding a lot of heat.  Spring and Autumn are great seasons to run with your dog, but temperatures can change drastically in a day.  Be aware of your dog's thermal and solar thresholds and always stay below them.

Length of Run | The length of your runs will be dictated by surfaces, the seasons, and temperatures as mentioned earlier.  But it will also be dictated by your dog's endurance level.  When beginning, go for short runs and try not to get to the point where your dog's tongue is hanging out all over the place.  You can slowly increase the length as your dog's endurance increases.  Never push your dog to it's limit; just because she can do something (or even want to do something), doesn't mean she should.  

The Dog's Position | I don't think the dog's position relative to your body really matters.  Reece likes to run out in front of me and Tootsie likes to run at my left side.  I do think that your dog should stay in one position, though.  It can be dangerous to have your dog moving all around and back and forth while you run.  The leash or the dog can easily trip you.  And, no matter the position, the dog should be moving on a loose leash.  A dog that constantly pulls into her collar can damage her trachea and be a strain on your arm.

The Run | I like to start with a brisk walk for about 5 minutes to get the dog warmed up.  Then we slowly transition into the pace we will sustain throughout the run.  I don't move my dogs any faster than a gait.  Every once in a while we might break into a trot for a minute or two, but we do not sustain that pace.  I think asking most dogs to run a long distance at a trot is too much.  To cool down, we slowly transition back into our brisk walking pace.  We maintain this slower pace for about 5 minutes.  Remember, warm-ups and cool-downs are important for both you and your dog.  This type of routine helps avoid injuries like pulled muscles.  

After the Run

Feet | Inspect the feet as you did before the run.

Food and Water | Do not allow your dog to gulp a bunch of water as soon as the run is over; bloat, vomiting, and other gastric problems can occur.  I give my dogs a small amount of water after they have stopped panting (about 10 or 15 minutes).  Then, an hour later, they have free access to water again.  I do not feed the dogs within two hours after we have finished our run for similar reasons.  

Rest | Your dog needs time between runs to properly rest.  As your dog's conditioning gets better, the amount of rest required between runs will decrease.  My dogs have gotten to they point where they can run one day after the other, but I still don't run my dogs more than four days a week.  If you notice your dog limping, acting ill, or anything out of the ordinary contact your vet.